‘For communities around the world, especially in the global south, it’s been clear for decades that the neoliberal “Washington Consensus,” which emerged in the 1980s and focused on deregulation, privatization, austerity, and trade liberalization, was a predatory and destructive model.’
– Foreign Policy Magazine, May 18, 2023.
The aforementioned passage from an article penned by Matthew Duss and Ganesh Sitaranam titled “Joe Biden and Jake Sullivan Have Declared That the Era of Neoliberal U.S. Foreign Policy Is Over” encapsulates what many discerning geopolitical and economic analysts have consistently asserted over the decades.
But even if the words of the present serving United States president and his national security advisor do come to pass, the idea that the demise of the neoliberal agenda would inexorably bring an end to capitalistic opportunism, economic exploitation and the quest for global hegemony is open to serious doubt.
The advent of the neoliberal age can be traced to the appointment of Paul
Volcker as Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve in 1979, and the coming to
power of U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret
Thatcher respectively in 1981 and 1979.
Prior to the introduction under the neoliberal order of economic "shock treatments" typified by the "Structural Adjustment Programmes" implemented in the 1980s, the Bretton Woods institutions were amenable to the Keynesian economic method and worked with aspiring socialist states such as Tanzania then under Julius Nyerere using a model that could be referred to as "development economics".
The defects in Nyerere's Ujamaa economic plan notwithstanding, the raison d'etre of the Western global economic order, which is predicated on usury, is decidedly to achieve a permanent state of indebtedness among client nations. John Perkin's Confessions of an Economic Hitman, which was published in 2004, is a suitable reference point on that issue.
Therefore if it can be assumed
with a great deal of certainty that a change in the method by which the United
States conducts its foreign trade relations with other nations will not
significantly change the fortunes of the nations of the Global South, it is all
the more important to instil the idea among the political and intellectual
classes of the “Global South”, particular those on the minerally rich African
continent, that economic prosperity and self-sufficiency will come about only
when these nations embark on serious, long-term national projects aimed at
industrialising their economies.
They must eschew the culture of dependency which inevitably comes from the institutionalising of foreign aid and neocolonial arrangements such as has characterised the relationship between France and its ex-colonies in Francophone Africa.
They must realise that they can only transform their nations from consumer-orientated economies to productive, self-sufficient ones by embarking on national industrialisation projects.
Instead of borrowing from Western or Chinese financial institutions, they must focus on efforts geared towards raising capital within their own borders in order to invest in the creation of heavy industry and the modernisation of their agricultural sectors.
The objective of industrialisation cannot be a piecemeal one or a substandard type such as what critics have derisively referred to as the "peasant-is-king" mentality typified by the failed policies of Ujamaa socialism.
Failure on the part of their policymakers to conceptualise and implement this economic vision will only ensure that whatever the economic models employed by the West or China to engage with African states, they will remain an appendage to the global economic system.
It would be remiss not to add that developing an industrial base would correspondingly provide such nations with the capacity to develop their militaries in a way which would make them less susceptible to the intervention of powerful industrialised nations. It is clear that the neoliberal agenda has been imposed on them not only through the threat of economic reprisals, but also by military intervention; in this regard, the U.S. arm of economic enforcers headed by the "shadow CIA" or "privatised CIA" which is an amalgam of the miscellaneous subsidiary organisations of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) who use NGOs to foment so-called “colour revolutions". Bodies modelled on the "Open Society" foundation have appeared to work hand-in-glove with regime change operations in eastern Europe and elsewhere.
Yet, in many ways the “colour revolution” is not much of an innovation, but more of a modification of an enduring modus operandi of imperialist powers. For today, while NATO and the CIA function as enforcers-in-chief of American corporate and financial interests, it is merely a continuum of the old CIA policies established under Allen Dulles. Under Dulles, the overthrows of Mohamed Mossadegh in Iran and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, and after Dulles, the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile, had the undercurrent of the establishing or re-establishing America's corporate interests.
Before the creation of the CIA, Major General Smedley Butler, a U.S. marine who participated in American interventions in places such as Cuba, the Philippines and China, acknowledged that he had spent most of his time being a “high-class muscleman for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers.”
And before the rise of the
U.S. hegemon, its predecessor Anglo-Saxon empire, had its commercial and
trading interest enforced not only by the army of the East India Company, but
on many occasions by the Royal Navy which was tasked to serve as a Leviathan Monster
such as occurred during the Don Pacifico Affair.
It is of course tempting to see Biden and Sullivan’s declaration of a shift from neoliberal foreign policy as an attempt to assuage the resentment of those countries of the Global South who have found the Chinese model of economic relations to be preferable to the U.S.-led Western model.
But regardless of the models offered by Western and the germinating Eurasian bloc, it is imperative that the leaders of the nations of the Global South think about industrialising their nations in order to resist the sort of “predatory and destructive” interactions which have led to their continued exploitation and contributed to the retardation of the development of their economies.
© Adeyinka Makinde (2023).
Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.